Idea generation: who cares? (I mean, seriously?!)

I’ve been thinking about and studying the whole “here comes everybody” phenomenon recently. And, while I’m not going to offer any definitive conclusions, I thought I would offer a mish-mash of some of my personal observations and findings: first, to see if any resonate and, second, to see what I can learn from others who have different and/or more experiences to share on the subject.

So, to start, there are a few triggers for the subject of my post (including the title):

I was browsing the DHS Quadrennial Homeland Security Review website set up for ideas and comments in the third and final form of national input. Here we are, mid-way through the one week that the site will be available, and there are a total of 83 Ideas. Sounds like a decent number, but when you look at the participation via comments and votes, you see that the Most Commented idea has 23 comments and, from what I can tell, is also the most voted on idea, with 26 votes so far. The range of votes quickly drops from there, by the way, to a range more like 5-10 votes of the Top 30. This, for a department with an annual budget of $50 billion, 200,000 employees and influence over all aspects of our public safety.

By the way, I do like some of the nice touches with the user interface, including some color coding of the tabs for different sections, nice use of space on the screen and relatively simple navigation. So, good job NAPA.

I also was intrigued by the dialogue generated by a post on nGenera’s Wikinomics blog by my colleague Tim Bevins on the “dark side” of political discourse on the internet. While there are a variety of points knotted together in his post and subsequent comments, my takeaway for purposes of idea generation is that these kinds of open tools are too easily highjacked by single issue advocates that, depending on the forum, can appear to be a much more dominant point of view than is true.

Lastly, in my recent work on a research paper for our Government 2.0 program, the more I studied the subject, the more I was persuaded that the closer the tool is to tapping into or capturing actual human behavior, the better off you are in the trustworthiness of the outcomes, i.e., the actual force and weight of the “ideas” themselves. The tools we spent the most time discussing in the research paper as having promise (but also their own set of complications) are prediction markets. While nGenera’s research is for subscribers to the program, I’m happy to point you to some nice on-going work on the subject by Melody at the Transcapitalist.

The other tool (really more an active area of invention and development) is “reality mining.” Remember when your mom or dad told you as a kid: “Do as I say, not as I do!” …when they caught you perpetuating one of their bad habits? Well, reality mining in principle, is as simple as just capturing and analyzing the “as I do” part of that axiom. But, you want to gather large sets of what people do, and then overlay it with other information you have about them. From that, you can understand what they want, care about, dislike, etc.

In the final analysis, launching an idea campaign or other similar crowd-sourced effort is akin to any launching any other physical social event. If you approach it like a generic happy hour among a fairly small circle of people (and their friends / acquaintances) that you know, then you can expect a small turnout, with rambling discourse, wide ranging opinions, and some decent “entertainment value” but little if any actionable content then next morning.

However, if you approach it like a major business event, with all of the pre-planning, organization, communications, focus on outcomes, a screening/selection process on the front-end or, for something more public) a rigorous crowd-control mechanism on the back-end, and shared interests/commitment/preparation of the attendees, then you are likely to get something a whole lot different and valuable in actionable content.

But, let me hear from those in the biz. With the wide adoption of citizen engagement and participation as a Gov2.0 meme, I’d love to hear what others think? Thanks!

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Good post. I think as idea generation evolves it needs to niche out in terms of 1) expectations (it can be 50 to 500,000 people depending on the goal) 2) goals (just a brainstorm for fun or about real concrete actions) and 3) the social set-up (a week jam? continual jam? open/closed? rounds?) Big fan of idea generation but I don’t think it’s one size fits all and it’ll evolve over time depending on business goals and outcomes.